Posts Tagged ‘soldiers’

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul

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Vietnam, at ground level 1970

July 10, 2018

Herein I recommend a novelized real story from that infamous “War in Vietnam.”

  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13437

John Podlaski’s novel about a brand-new American soldier in Vietnam strikes at the heart of the matter— just what the hell were our soldiers over there supposed to be doing?

Them brave boys were  putting their asses on the line, stalking communist enemies in strange jungles on the other side of the world, when all the while their survival instinct was demanding them to just hunker down, lay low, and get through their year-long sentence of jungle warfare in one living, still-breathing piece.

And All for what?

Because we sent them to do a job—kill communists, and run the ones we couldn’t kill back to the North.

Now we all know it didn’t work out that way, but we learned some lessons—and the world did too—in the process.

The problem our guys had over there was: how could we know, in a SE Asian village scenario, which villagers were helping the NVA, and which ones were on our side? As if these rice-cultivating peasants knew the difference between Karl Marx and George Washington!

After reading this book, Cherries, it seems to me that, in the midst of the terrible gun battles, every soldier’s internal war must have been a constant conflict between these two missions: to kill enemies and thus keep the brass-mandated “body count” on an upward curve, or to stay alive!

Which would you choose?!

In most cases, it seems it came down to protecting yourself and your squad buddies, while treading fearfully through the booby-trapped minefield of two opposing international ideologies whose political strategies had turned absolutely, militarily lethal.

That project required real men—brave soldiers who could bite the bullet— who could launch out and give it a shot while death and danger stalked them at every turn along the path.

This was a terrible, terrible ordeal that our nation put these guys through! We need to talk about it.We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery.  We need to ask: Just what the hell happened back then and there in Vietnam?—in that war that so many of us managed to evade.  Whether you were for the war of against it— reading John Podlaski’s “Cherries” is a provocative way to begin the assessment— an evaluation that needs to take place, for the sake of our nation’s future security.

Read the book, because this quasi-autobiographical story gives a close-up, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground account of what our guys were doing over there in Vietnam, while we were trying to figure it all out here, stateside— here, safe in the home of the free, while the brave were answering the terrible call that our government had imposed on them.  They endured that jungular hell-pit so that we, as a nation, could, in spite of defeat,  pass successfully through the 20th-century burden of Cold War paranoia.

John’s fictionalized personal story fleshes out the constant conflict between two soldierly inclinations: fulfilling military responsibility by driving up enemy “body counts,” vs. following  the human instinct to just stay alive, and somehow make it through your one-year tour of duty without getting your ass killed.

Our American purpose there was unclear. No definite battlefield could be found;  the war was waged wherever our boys happened to run into the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam Army, in a perpetual theater-game of deadly hide-and-seek. Our teens and twenties recruits and draftees were dropped into unfamiliar Asian jungles, then immersed immediately in extreme fear—fear like you would feel seeing two of your platoon-mates’ heads staked on bamboo poles.

Not in Kansas any more, Toto!

Khe Sahn. A Shau, Ah shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Read John’s book to find out what perils our boys  were trudging through while we stateside were trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores.

BTW, by the 1990’s it was plain to see that  the free world, led by the USA, had prevailed in our struggle against both fascism and communism. In the big picture, our effort in Vietnam played an instructive role in that victory. The governance of nations has more to do with learning from your mistakes than fighting a lost cause to some idealized bitter end.

VNGame

Thanks to you all you guys—Cherries, LongTimers and Lifers—who answered the call to service at that time. Oh yeah, and here’s another belated message: Welcome Home!

King of Soul  

A Boomer Looks Back

September 5, 2016

VietMem2

Now that I’ve been growing up for 65 years, I am at last approaching some semblance of adulthood.

During the course of my baby’boomer lifetime, I have seen some changes; some of them I am actually starting to comprehend.

Now I look back on it all and find myself wondering about some things, but quite sure about some other things.

Several years ago, my wife and I spent some vacation time on the island of Maui, in the great state of Hawaii. While driving one afternoon down the western slope of Hale’akala volcano, we happened upon a memorial to a great man named Sun Yat-sen.

In his lifetime, during the early 20th century–1911, Sun lead many of his countrymen in a revolution that deposed the old monarchy of their country–the Chinese Qing dynasty. But before that happened, he had spent some time in Hawaii; that’s why there’s as statue of him there.

At the base of Sun Yat-sen’s memorial a quote from him is carved in the stone, and this is what is said:

LOOK INTO THE NATURE OF THINGS

Ever since I saw that, I have been working that pearl of wisdom into my way of living as much as I can. And this principle of living and learning has been not only a motivation for me toward acquiring useful knowledge, but also a source of great joy and satisfaction.

This principle is expanded in the Proverbs of the Bible: Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it. Proverbs 16:22.

Now this may seem like a philosophical idea, but it is really very productive in the living of real life. Here’s a nuts n’ bolts example:

In 1992, when I was still a young man of 41, working as a carpenter to provide for our three children, and for my wife who had not yet become a nurse, and for our household, I took a job with a construction company remodeling (a refurb job) an old K-Mart. My job was to tear old stuff out from around the inside perimeter of the store and replace it with a newer style of retail display.

I had been visiting K-Marts ever since I was a teenager in the 1960’s. So I had been seeing those retail structures for most of my life. But to look behind the facade, into the structure, and then to reconstruct the structure based on newer, more modern components–this work experience held a strange satisfaction for me, as well as a source of income for a season of our life.

Working on that K-Mart was more than a paycheck; it was a joy to behold as the various phases of reconstruction unfolded beneath my hands and before my eyes.

Look into the nature (or structure) of things!

Many years have passed; now I’m looking back on it all. Part of the outcome from this reflection will be a novel that I am now researching and writing. It is a story that takes place during the time of my youth; it has become a cathartic process for reconciling the difference between what I thought I knew then and what I now know about that turbulent period of my g-generation’s growing up.

Ours was the generation whose maturing was said to be delayed because Dr. Spock wrote a book about child care that–as some have judged it–convinced our mothers to spoil us.

While there may be an element of truth to that judgement, I have noticed in my conversations with some people lately that there is category of folks in our boomer generation who were definitely not spoiled:

Those guys and gals who fulfilled their duty to our country by going to fight the war in Vietnam–they found themselves in a situation where they had to grow up in one hell of a hurry.

What I am seeing now is, in my g-generation, there was a great divide between: Them that went, and them that didn’t.

While I was college freshman in 1969, trying to figure out what life was all about, and marching against the war, those guys who who went to ‘Nam were required–and yeah I say unto thee–forced to figure out how to keep life pumping through their bodies and the bodies of their buddies who fought with them.

Those soldiers who went over there had to grow up a lot quicker than I did.

I did not go to Vietnam. My lottery number in 1970 was 349, so I literally “lucked out” of it.

During that time, a time when I was stepping lightly through ivory-tower lala land, our soldiers on the other side of the world were trudging through jungles, heavy-laden with weapons and survival gear. While I was privileged to be extending my literacy skills,  they were committed to learning how to kill the enemy before he kills “us.”

Now it turns out my research about the ’60’s is swirling around two undeniable maelstroms of socio-political showdown: civil rights and the Vietnam war.

So, in my project of looking into the nature of things in the 1960’s, I am learning about that war and how it came to be a major American (undeclared) war instead of just a civil war between Vietnamese.

One thing I have found is that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara undertook a similar project in 1965. When he was in the thick of it all–as one of the best and brightest industrial leaders of that age, having been recruited as an insider in the White House, then calling the shots on major events, wielding incredible military power on the other side of the planet, in the heat of the moment and in the fog of war, he found himself wanting to know. . .

how the hell did this happen? how the hell did we get here?

McNamara’s question lead to a .gov-commissioned research project, paid for on our taxpayer dime, and ultimately made public by the primary researcher of that undertaking, a former Marine Lt. Col. named Daniel Ellsberg.

Look deep into it. In Ellsberg’s case he looked deep into 7000 pages of military documentation, starting in the 1940’s and going all the way through Tonkin Gulf in 1964.

Look into the nature of things.

I’ll let you know in another year or two–when the book is done– what my search dredges up from the streets and battlefields of our g-generation’s  search to find meaning and fulfillment, and maybe even a little justice and mercy thrown in.

But one thing I want to say, now, to THEM THAT WENT:

Although things did not turn out the way we had intended, there isn’t much in this life that actually does end up like we thought it would.

You went and did what the USA asked, or compelled you, to do, while many of us were trying to pull you back to stateside.

Thank you for your service. We’ll need many more of your stripe before its all over with.

Glass half-Full

Listen: Boomer’s Choice

I didn’t go to Vietnam, but . . .

May 25, 2015

I was a kid of the ’60s which means now I’m in my own sixties.

While there was a lot going on back in the day, with all the world descending into war and chaos and so forth and so one, nevertheless there was a lot of good happening too.

Always has been, always will be, a lot of good and a lot of bad going on in the world at the same time,  and here we are trying to sort our way through it.

Makes me think of Take Your Place on the Great Mandela, a song sung by Peter, Paul and Mary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-tBLqIz6wA

Now you remember, since I mention the ’60s, there was a war going on back then.

As there is a war going on today, somewhere. Most likely we are involved in it, directly or indirectly, we being the big kid on the block, policeman of the world, inheritor of the post WorldWarII reconstruction and defender of the free world.

I mean that: Defender of free world. It’s a job to be taken seriously.

Back in the day, when the war was in Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and God only knows who else, along with thousands of American boys, were trying to make southeast Asia safe for democracy, I reached draft age at the same time that the US gov implemented a lottery for selecting draftees.

My draft # was 349. Literally the luck of the draw. So I never went to ‘Nam, never served in the military.

Now we don’t have a draft any more. Our soldiers are all professionals. And that, in my opinion, is the main difference between American strength then and America now. And please forgive me when I say, that’s the way it should be. It seems to me that that whole damn business of the anti-war movement during our Vietnam striving was an outcome of the draft. It was the draft, and my generation’s refusal to accept it, that doomed our effort, from the start, to successfully prosecute that unpopular war.

And for what its worth, Vietnam hasn’t turned out so bad. My daughter traveled there several years ago and gave a very favorable report of the place, including their fondness for Americans in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

But looking back on it, ff we had had no draft, everything we did in Vietnam might have turned out differently. We might have won.

But then we’ll never know, will we?, about such vain speculations as the one I have just made.

Nevertheless, that’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it. I’m an American, with a Constitutionally-protected right to express it, thanks to those whose valiant service has assured our freedoms.

And I believe that if another war comes along that truly requires a draft, such as World War II, then our Congress will affirm the need, and men and women will rise to the challenge.

Thanks to those who have fought to defend to our liberty. Thanks to their families, whose survival is saddened by the loss of their brave sons, daughters, relatives and friends who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, who deposited into the blood-drenched soils of Vietnam, Korea, Okinawa, France, Belgium, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, and many other places including our very own USA where President Lincoln commemorated their sacrifice at Gettysburg. . .the dear cost of freedom paid by those who contributed their “last full measure of devotion.”

Now you may be thinking that’s easy for me to say, as one who never served.

And you’re right. It is easy for me to say, or to write, but that’s just the way it is.

In a free country, citizens are free to serve in the armed forces, or not serve. For those who do accept military duty, whether for a season or for a career, we ought to provide a good living, and extraordinary opportunities for them to prosper, to live long and well, in our free nation after they have completed military service.

I mean it when I say: we owe a great debt to our men and women who defend the United States of America and our Allies by serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Because of my feelings about all this, I wrote a novel to express the way I see our war-torn world. It is the story of a young man who did not do military service, but who is, in the story, traveling through Britain and France during the year 1937. And he, Philip, has a destination, which is a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field, where his father is buried.

His father had died in 1918 defending Belgium, France, and the free world.

My novel story is fictional, but it depicts some tragic truth about what goes on in this perilous world, a world that is often at war with itself. But it’s a world that occasionally catches some respite in between wars, as I did, and also as my character Philip did in the novel,

Smoke.

Hey you.

May 27, 2013

During the dark middle years of our Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln went to a battlefield in Pennsylvania where thousands of soldiers had died in defense of our nation, while fighting to preserve what we Americans stand for.

Mr. Lincoln spoke very briefly that day, November 19, 1863. He spoke gravely, as a leader who deeply understood, and grieved at, the terrible, bloody price being paid for our freedom. What he said has filled and inspired the consciousness of us who have, over these last 150 years, benefited from the sacrifice of those brave men at Gettysburg. Here is a small shrapnel of what he said:

“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate–we cannot consecrate–we cannot hallow– this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Nowadays, we may ask ourselves what were those men struggling for? What have all our soldiers, past and present,  lived and died fighting for? Mr. Lincoln’s final sentence that day reinforced it:

“. . . that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This Memorial Day, we should remind ourselves of this principle too–government by the people— as we remember the men and women who have died on battlefields all around the world for us people, so that we can live free.

Are you actually making the best use of that freedom that these brave soldiers fought for? Or is your power to act favorably– on behalf of yourself and those you love– is that power, your personal initiative, your energy, buried in the ground somewhere on some lapsed battleground of your life? Is your impulse to serve others  hiding in a bag of potato chips? or a carton of beer? Is it taking refuge behind the glass of a flat screen tv?

You, you who are reading this,  ask yourself:

Am I a person? Am I one of those “people” whose responsibility is to govern? 

Or have I abdicated? Have I ceded my personal responsibilities as an American to some other person or agency? Is my freedom to act and prosper locked in a harddrive, on a desktop, somewhere in Washington, DC? Or in my state’s capital?  Have I signed off on my freedom to act?

98 years after President Lincoln addressed, at Gettysburg, the heart issues of our nation’s purpose–government by the people– President John Kennedy said:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

This, too, we need to remember, and act upon, instead of looking for handouts or unearned entitlements, instead of waiting for superman to bail us out of whatever couch-potato cushion we are stuck in. Are you doing your part to keep our  United States of America a nation of free citizens, who are willing and capable to act on your own so that you and  all the rest of us may benefit?

What have you done this week to make our country a better place? Did you do your job? Did you look for a job? Did you read something worthwhile? Did you break a sweat, hammer a nail, or cook a meal? Did you pick up your own trash, clean your plate after the meal, help load the dishwasher? Did you speak kindly to someone? Did you speak correction to yourself or your best friend? Did you plant a seed. I mean, it is spring. We can get out now and see what the real world looks like.

What’s going on out there? And what does it mean that “the people,” govern? Do I get a fancy desk and a legislative vote-on-the-bill button to push? Probably not. But you and I, as people, do have certain responsibilities thrust upon us, lest our great ship of state plunge to the depths of lethargy.

Although we cannot, as President Lincoln said, truly consecrate that hallowed ground at Gettysburg, there is something we can and should do.

Are you doing your part in governing this great nation? Many men and women have died so that you could exercise that privelege. Use it. Find something that needs to be done and do it, whether you’re getting paid for it or not.

Glass half-Full